Heatstroke or heat stress is a state of hyperthermia (elevated core body temperature above the normal range) resulting in thermal injury to tissues. Heatstroke occurs when heat generation exceeds the body’s ability to lose heat. Heatstroke is a very serious condition: it can lead to multiple organ failure and dogs can die quickly from heatstroke.
What are the main predisposing factors?
A warm/hot, humid environment
Lack of adequate ventilation/air flow
Lack of adequate shade
Lack of adequate drinking water
What are the signs of heatstroke?
Signs may vary between individuals, but commonly include:
Incessant panting (increases as heat stroke progresses)
Very red or pale gums
Bright red tongue
Increased heart rate
Vomiting, Diarrhea (possibly with blood)
Signs of mental confusion, delirium
Collapsing and lying down
Little to no urine production
How do you avoid heatstroke for your dog?
You can help to prevent heatstroke by ensuring your dog is kept in appropriate environmental conditions and being aware of the symptoms so action can be taken swiftly.
Provide your dog with a cool, shaded area with good ventilation at all times – adequate ventilation and air flow are important as dogs cool down via evaporative cooling (panting) which requires adequate air flow.
Provide plenty of clean fresh water and extra water sources in case of spillage.
Bring your dog indoors on hot, humid days if the indoor environment is cooler for the animal (e.g. air-conditioning, child-safe fans, open windows where possible and shade).
Do not exercise your dog in hot, humid conditions. On hot days try to walk your dog very early in the morning or very late in the afternoon when it is cool, and avoid the hottest part of the day.
Do not leave your dog in a car or vehicle - even when the windows are down dogs can still overheat and die. One study found that even on mild days the temperature inside the vehicle rises rapidly to dangerous levels.
Avoid hot sand, concrete, asphalt areas or any other areas where heat is reflected and there is no access to shade.
How should you treat a dog with heatstroke?
First step is to instigate Emergency First Aid at home - the aim of first aid is to help normalize body temperature.
- Apply or spray tepid/cool water onto the animal’s fur/skin. Followed by fanning of the pet to maximize heat loss.
- Wetting down the area around your pet can also help.
- 3. Don’t use ice-cold water or ice as this may exacerbate the problem. NOTE: There are videos online of dogs playing in kiddie pools full of ice. This is perfectly safe providing the dog is not suffering from heatstroke. Dropping the temperature down too quickly on a dog with heat stroke can cause shock.
- Then take your dog to the nearest Vet immediately.
- Heat stroke is a life threatening emergency - always see a vet. Even if your dog looks like they may be recovering or you just suspect they might have heat stroke they should still always be checked by a vet. Given the seriousness of this condition, it is better to be safe than sorry and have your dog checked out by a vet.
How do vets help dogs with heatstroke?
Vets are trained to assess the severity of the heatstroke and then provide emergency medical treatment as required. They will check your dog’s body temperature and vital signs and then instigate emergency treatment which may include:
Putting your dog on a drip (intravenous fluids)
Cooling treatments e.g. cooling enemas
Medication as required
Blood tests to check organ function
Ongoing monitoring and treatment as required
More tips for taking care of dogs in hot weather:
Owners need to be aware of sunburn especially in dogs with white, non-pigmented skin and a white-colored coat.
All dogs are susceptible to heat stroke so owners need to make sure that they take active steps to prevent it.
Other exacerbating factors can include:
Brachycephalic breeds (short-nosed/flat-faced) e.g. Pugs, English bull dogs, French bulldogs, Pekingese and Persian and Himalayan cats.
Respiratory disease/breathing problems – laryngeal paralysis, collapsing trachea
Thick/long hair coat
Heart problems/Cardiovascular disease
Extremes in age (young/old)
Follow these rules will lead to a safe, and enjoyable, summer.